National Library pays tribute to important Scots writer
The life of one of Scotland's outstanding writers of the 20th century is being celebrated at the National Library of Scotland, 100 years after she was born into poverty in a workhouse in Inverness.
Much of Jessie Kesson's writing was about the struggle for survival through times of deprivation, social dislocation and loss. It was born out of her own experience from being raised in a slum in Elgin and then sent to a distant orphanage as a young girl after being removed by the courts from her mother's care. Prevented from advancing her education, she became a farmhand and domestic servant before, despite the odds, developing as an acclaimed writer.
The display ('The sma perfect') which opens today (22 September) draws largely on the writer's archive, very generously given to the Library in 2016 by Jessie's daughter, Avril. It resonates with the Scots she spoke all of her life which remained unaffected by some 40 years living in London. This is apparent in the title of the display which is called 'The sma perfect' and sums up one of Jessie's main ambitions. 'I've never felt I would write the great big novel. I've aye wanted to write the sma perfect!' she said.
Although she is best known for her novels 'The white bird passes' and 'Another time, another place', she also wrote around 100 plays for radio over a 45-year period. There is a wealth of material in the archive about her writing for radio.
The display records various episodes in Jessie's life using material from the archive together with direct quotes from the author. These cover her childhood; her writing; the need to make a living outside writing which saw her take on a variety of jobs including an artists' life model; her radio work and, eventually, recognition for her writing. She was particularly pleased in later life with the 'scarlet gouns' and honorary doctorates conferred by the universities of Dundee and Aberdeen which was some recompense for the education she had been denied.
'Jessie Kesson's life story was dramatic and difficult and her writing grew out of these experiences, expressed in language that is poetic, uncluttered, and rich in Scots,' said Sally Harrower, Curator of Modern Literary Manuscripts at the National Library. 'It is that wonderful voice that we have tried to convey in this display and which speaks so strongly in her work and in her archive.'
'The sma perfect' is on at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh from 22 September until 25 November. Entry is free.
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22 September 2016